Reverting to teacher-assessed grades for A-level results is the only way to lessen the strain on students and teachers, the incoming general secretary of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) has said – even if grade inflation is “the unavoidable outcome”.
Nearly 40% of A-level results were downgraded by Ofqual, which used an algorithm based on schools’ previous results to stop grade inflation.
As the disarray over grades enters its fifth day, Dr Simon Hyde said: “The only way now to stop this intolerable strain on students and teachers is to award the teacher assessment grades or CAGs.
“Whilst we accept that the unavoidable outcome is grade inflation, we believe this is the less bad option when tens of thousands of students are facing unfair grades, thousands of schools are facing an as yet undeveloped appeals process and most of us need to concentrate our energy on supporting the prime minister’s desire to reopen our schools in a few weeks’ time.”
He said the decision would allow Ofqual to publish GCSE results for pupils in England, Wales and Northern Ireland as planned on 20 August. “The last thing anyone needs is more delay and confusion,” he said.
Jane Prescott, president of the Girls’ Schools Association and headmistress of Portsmouth High School, said although going back to teacher-assessed grades was “not without its challenges”, it was “the fairest solution”.
In an official statement released after A-level grades were published on 13 August, Ofqual said: “In general, the centre assessment grades (CAGs) submitted were optimistic. This is understandable and in line with the evidence from previous research.”
The only way now to stop this intolerable strain on students and teachers is to award the teacher assessment grades or CAGs – Dr Simon Hyde, HMC
Ofqual’s report added that “recent interviews with teachers” revealed that many “tended to think about how each student would perform on a good day, while knowing that every year some students have bad days”. If left unchanged, moderators said this year’s results “would have been an unprecedented increase”.
Its final report argues there was no “systemic bias” against students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Northern Ireland education minister Peter Weir said his government had decided to scrap the algorithm that would have adjusted teacher assessed GCSE grades. Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon apologised over downgraded exam results and reinstated teacher-assessed grades for National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher qualifications.
Questions over the government’s handling of grades continues, not least from backbench members of the Conservative party.
Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said teacher assessments or mock exam results should be used instead, while Wimbledon MP Stephen Hammond criticised Ofqual’s failure to publish an appeals process for A-levels was a “shambles”.
Telford MP Lucy Allan questioned “how can anyone defend” Ofqual’s awarding of U grades to students that did not have a chance to sit examinations. Ms Allan also commended the decision taken by Worcester College, Oxford, to honour all places to UK students this year, irrespective of their A-level results. “This is the way forward for universities and employers. There were no A-levels in 2020,” she tweeted.
Many students are expected to appeal, but the process for challenging A-level grades has been left mired in confusion after Ofqual withdrew its guidance for challenging results within hours of publishing its plan on Saturday. The Department for Education said guidelines are still being drawn up.
David Laws, executive chairman of the Education Policy Institute (EPI), said: “It is essential that GCSE grades are not published until Ofqual is confident that they are fair and robust and will not lead to further speculation or uncertainty and a requirement for mass appeals.
“Ofqual has tried hard to maintain the overall credibility of the exams system this year, but this seems to have come at a very high price to fairness to individual students. In making a choice between guarding exam standards and fairness to individual students, it is much more important to prioritise fairness to students.
Ofqual has tried hard to maintain the overall credibility of the exams system this year, but this seems to have come at a very high price to fairness to individual students – David Laws, Education Policy Institute
“We also need to avoid our entire education system being clogged up with appeals – and it is very unlikely that Ofqual has the capacity itself to deal with mass numbers of such appeals.
“It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that for GCSEs this year we may need to use the teacher assessed grades, as they have now decided to do in Northern Ireland. The risk of unfair grading is even larger for GCSEs than it is for A levels. We cannot afford weeks of uncertainty and Ofqual being deluged by tens of thousands of appeals.
“Resolving the A level grading mess is likely to be more challenging. The situation is complicated by the fact that decisions on university entry have already been decided.
“We need a robust A levels appeals process that provides a way out for those students who have been penalised by the system. It is clear that the use of mock exam grades is not a sound basis for appealing grades – this should now be dropped.”